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Human Rights in Canada: An Historical Perspective

The Great Wall of China: The Chinese Immigration Act

Ottawa, Canada

They call it the Chinese Immigration Act, but the long name of the Act says it all:

"An Act to restrict and regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada".This act proved to be very effective.

The Act was first passed in 1885 and continued to be inforced in 1900. China is the world's most populous country - and the thought of widespread emigration from the Orient strikes fear into the hearts of Canada's politicians.

In 1882, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald called the Chinese "a semi-barbaric, inferior race", and "machines with whom Canadians couldn't compete..."

Obviously, Sir John A. had a limited knowledge of the ancient and evolved Chinese civilization.

In 1900, there are no airplanes - immigrants come to Canada by boat. The Act limits the number of Chinese immigrants to one person for every 50 tons of a ship's tonnage. That means a 300 ton ship could legally carry only 6 Chinese immigrants to Canada.

Moreover, the Act puts a "head tax" on every immigrant - a charge that every Chinese person entering the country has to pay. In 1900, the government increased the restrictive tax from $50 to $100-an exorbitant sum for the time.

It is clear: Discrimination on the basis of race is rampant and evident. When the Titanic is built in 1911, its tonnage is 46,328.
That works out to 1 passenger per 17 tons.

" At present this is simply a question of alternatives - you must have this [Chinese] labour or you cannot have the railway..."

Sir John A. Macdonald House of Commons debates, 1882

Want to know more?

Read The House of Commons Debates, 1882, pages 1471-1477.
The 1902 Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration